In his intervention, the Coadjutor Archbishop of Agana, Michael Byrnes, asked about “meaningful constraints” on bishops accused of abuse, such as his predecessor, Archbishop Anthony Apuron, who was found guilty of sexual abuse of minors by a Vatican tribunal, but who has asked for an appeal.
“It’s been grating on the people of God” to have no concrete knowledge of the status of Apuron’s constraints, he said.
In his comments, Bishop Robert Daniel Conlon of Joliet said he agreed with an earlier suggestion of Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, that the remedy for the abuse crisis and accusations against bishops may already be found in the bishop’s charters and laws.
“People say the Church is hung up on sex, this is evidence of that,” he said regarding the debate about the sex abuse crisis. “We are capable of malfeasance in many other areas as well,” he said, and urged the bishops to consider more broadly the ways bishops may have gone wrong.
“I promised celibacy during (ordinations),” he added, “and I have to say I’m a little chagrined to be asked to sign something that says I will be accountable to certain standards.”
Bishop Andrew Cozzens, an auxiliary bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, said in his following intervention that he wished to see more fraternal correction among the bishops. He asked that bishops seek out the counsel of the bishops in their region if they are considering resigning, and also that bishops fraternally correct bishops in their region if they believe they should resign.
“I dream of a day when we as brothers are strong enough to say - we think you should resign, even if he’s not ready to hear that,” he said. “Those are difficult conversations to have, nobody wants to have them, but they can be very important.”
Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, a “small rural area” with a minority Catholic population, gave a notably strong intervention, in which he asked the bishops to consider how McCarrick got to be in the positions that he was “if we really believed that what was going on was wrong?”
“It’s part of our deposit of faith that we believe homosexual activity is immoral,” he said. “How did he get promoted if we are all of one mind that this is wrong? Do we believe the doctrine of the Church or not?”
Strickland said that while homosexual people are “children of God who deserve great care” and not personal condemnation, the Church should teach clearly that homosexual actions are sinful, and help people move from sin to virtue.
“There’s a priest that travels around saying that he doesn’t (believe this teaching), and he’s well promoted in various places,” Strickland said. “Can that be presented in our dioceses? That same-sex marriage is just fine and that the Church may one day grow to understand that? That’s not what we teach.”
Strickland’s intervention was also followed by applause from numerous bishops.
Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane said he had heard from many concerned, faithful Catholic parents who want to encourage vocations in their children, but are growing impatient with a lack of answers on the abuse crisis from Church leadership.
It is a concern the bishops should “take very seriously,” he said. “My feeling is judging from their conversations, they’re running out of patience.”
DiNardo then commented that he personally reads “thousands” of letters that the “people of God” have sent to the USCCB.
“If there’s one thing that nags at everyone, it’s the Archbishop McCarrick thing,” he said. “It seems to be ubiquitous. This is the one that I think has to be addressed, it’s just bad for our people.”
In the next intervention, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas said he seconded an earlier suggestion from Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, that metropolitan bishops be given greater authority over the bishops in their region and the ability to conduct their own reviews and investigations.
“We have an existing structure but it needs to be empowered,” he said. He also added that it should be clarified which accusations against bishops and clergy should be made public - those that are deemed credible, or those that have been further substantiated.
He added that the media “has been very negative” about the Church following the crisis and has perpetuated a “myth” that nothing has changed since the 2002 Dallas Charter, and that the bishops must do a better job speaking out about what has already changed.
Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha said in his intervention that the process for handling misconduct on the part of bishops must be made clear, transparent and expedient.
“How bishops are held accountable when there has been misconduct is not clear, it’s a process that happens sometimes, but it’s not timely, it’s not transparent,” he said.
He said that he was “very disappointed” by instructions from the Vatican to not hold votes on proposed changes, but said he saw it as an opportunity to be very clear with the Holy See about needs to be done at the meetings in February.
Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing gave a brief intervention in which he said he also favored the suggestions of strengthening the role of metropolitan bishops, and that it would likely be well-received in Rome.
Bishop Murry of Youngstown said in his intervention that while lay people are angry, they want to help the Church, and the bishops should accept their help.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami joked at the beginning of his comments that the bishops should be glad Donald Trump is president, otherwise the Church would be receiving even more attention and “bad press” than it already has.
He urged the bishops not to get “distracted” by the media, and not to give in to the “industry and addiction” of outrage. Most people are not hung up on the sex abuse crisis, he said.
“People are coming to Church, they're praying, they’re sending their kids to Catechism, the life of the Church is moving on. If you’re not reading the blogs, if you’re not watching cable TV, this is not front and center for most of our people,” he said.
“We’ve done a lot, we have to tell our story better and not get played in the outrage business and get back to what we’re supposed to be doing as pastors,” he said, to applause from some bishops.
Bishop George Thomas of Las Vegas followed Wenski, and said that he had heard from people who were “rightfully” angry and disappointed that the Vatican had put a hold on the votes of the bishop’s conference on any proposals regarding sex abuse.
“The perception is that justice delayed is justice denied,” he said. He said he still hoped the conference would hold an “advisory vote that reflects the gravity of the issue at hand, the urgency of the matter, the depth of the breach of trust…(in order to) remove a cancer and help heal this wound that is affecting so deeply the living body of Christ.”
Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, where McCarrick had once served, provided an update on the two investigations ongoing in his diocese, which he said are moving along but can become complicated when they overlap.
He said the diocese is “committed” to sharing the findings with the Holy See. He added that if Catholic’s trust in the credibility of their bishops was so easily shattered by the sex abuse crisis, “what was there before? What was our credibility built on, that it could be so swept away?”
Cardinal William Levada, emeritus prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said in his intervention that the McCarrick situation may have been prevented if there were stronger investigations conducted when transferring bishops to different dioceses.
Bishop Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City reiterated in his interventions the “necessity” of the laity, who could serve as a “tremendous resource” in responding to the abuse crisis.
Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland in Oregon said the abuse crisis has caused him to “take a real good hard look at myself and how I’m living my life as a bishop in the Church today,” spiritually and pastorally.
“Have we lost sight about what our mission is truly all about?” he said. “Our mission is to sanctify the world,” through shepherding and being close to the people.
“Reform begins with us individually,” he said.
Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento said in his intervention that he disagreed with all of the proposals to strengthen the role of the metropolitan bishops, an effort which he said would be perceived by lay Catholics as too little, too late.
“Maybe that moment has passed and we’ve missed our opportunity to do that,” he said. “In the current time, the transparency and independent review seems to be more on the minds of the faithful. We have to continue to pursue what has been proposed by the committee.”
All other interventions were reserved for the following morning. Following an announcement about expected ice and snow, the bishops broke for the evening. Thursday is the final day for the fall meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which this year has focused almost exclusively on their response to the sex abuse crisis in the U.S. Church.
Editor's note, 16:04, Nov. 14, 2018: A previous version of this article stated incorrectly that Cardinal Mahony has been barred from public ministry, which is untrue. The article has been corrected.